Herbivory rate of leaf-cutting ants in a tropical moist forest in Panama at the population and ecosystem scales

Hubert Herz, Wolfram Beyschlag, Berthold Hoelldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Leaf-cutting ants are frequently characterized as the major herbivores in the Neotropics, but quantitative data to back up this assumption are scarce. In this study, the consumption and herbivory rates for the entire leaf-cutting ant (Atta colombica, Formicidae) population in an old secondary forest on Barro Colorado Island (BCI) in Panama were determined over 15 mo (on average 49 colonies). The number of harvested leaf fragments was calculated from monthly refuse deposition rates of the colonies and the regression between refuse deposition and harvesting rates. The inclusion of fragment characteristics (proportion of leaf fragments in the harvest, average fragment weight, and area) allowed us to calculate consumption and herbivory rates at colony, population, and ecosystem levels. The A. colombica population harvested 13.2 tons of biomass/yr and 13.1 ha of leaf area/yr, and deposited 9.4 tons of refuse material/yr. Rates varied considerably among colonies. At the ecosystem level, i.e., per forest area, herbivory rates were 132 kg biomass/ha/yr and 1310 m 2 foliage/ha/yr. For the area on BCI where A. colombica occurs (100 ha), this is equivalent to 2.1 percent of the foliage area in the forest or 1.7 percent of the annual leaf-area production. This value is considerably lower than previously published estimates of leaf-cutting ant herbivory rates in tropical forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)482-488
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Atta colombica
  • Barro Colorado Island
  • Consumption rate
  • Folivory
  • Insect herbivory
  • Leaf area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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